On a recent weekday morning, Michael Ullman, 66, was busy packing bags of assorted produce at JFS SOVA Community Food and Resource Program in Van Nuys — carrots, potatoes, lettuce, onions, apples. By 9 a.m., he and another volunteer had managed to fill 100 bags to be distributed to clients. Not exactly a typical morning for an immigration law attorney.
The Calabasas resident and Or Ami congregant first got involved with SOVA six years ago. “I felt there was a void in my life, that I needed to do something to give back,” recalled the married father of two adult children.
Ullman already had a longstanding relationship with the Sherman Oaks/East Valley Adult Center. For 20-plus years, a couple of times a month, as well as on major holidays, he and his wife, Charlotte, along with their kids (when they were younger), have delivered meals to homebound seniors. But he wanted to do more.
“I decided to look for volunteer activities, and SOVA called my name.” While presented with various volunteer opportunities at the 32-year-old organization, working in the food pantry appealed most to him.
“To me, food is really important, and there are so many people who are hungry,” Ullman said. “Right off the bat, I started taking a day off from work and giving it to SOVA.” (Because he has his own private practice, he didn’t have to get permission from the boss.) “It’s the highlight of my week. Not only are you helping others, you develop these relationships with people you would never meet. Not just the clients, but with the other volunteers. We talk about our lives and our experiences. It has turned into a family now.”
Ullman told the story of one woman who used to come to SOVA as a client. “She would never look up,” he said. “She would say, ‘Thank you.’ All of a sudden, we never saw her again. Then she started to volunteer. She got a job.”
Ullman’s wife also volunteers at SOVA on a weekly basis, albeit on a different day. In part, this is for practical reasons. “She works in my office when I’m not there,” Ullman said. “But I think it has allowed both of us to grow in different ways to be with different people.” Ullman also serves as master of ceremonies at SOVA’s annual volunteer appreciation event. And he’s hoping to take on another regular volunteer gig, perhaps at the Los Angeles Jewish Home.
“I’d like to at least give another half day,” he said.
“I feel blessed that I have the resources to allow me to take a day off of work,” Ullman added. “At one time, I thought it was just a gift — from me to them, and from them to me as well. But I have found it’s a necessity in my life. It sounds corny, but I get much more out of it than I give.”